Tag Archive: short stories

“Writers of the Future Volume 31” is this year’s collection of 13 best sci-fi stories by new writers. The stories (most of which are quite enjoyable) are interspersed with occasional essays on writing by L. Ron Hubbard, Orson Scott Card, etc. Overall, the collection had some nice gems and should give every sci-fi fan hours of enjoyment. (Or days, if you’d like to stretch it out!) Each story has an amazing illustration to go with it. The artists are featured alongside the authors, so who knows – maybe this book will be the big break they need.

Brief reviews:
“Switch” by David Farland – a cop using mental performance-enhancing drug is on the case to find the drug’s manufacturer after a series of violent crimes. Interesting if you’re into police stories and action movies.

“The God Whisperer” by Daniel J. Davis – what if people had minor gods as pets? Funny and creative story – shame it was so short, because there’s definitely enough potential for a book.

“Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light by Sharon Joss – a teenage girl from a space colony of genetically modified humans discovers an intelligent lifeform in her backyard. The story has a Young Adult feel to it and it’s beautifully written.

“When Shadows Fall” by L. Ron Hubbard – a 1948 story about three men’s attempts to save a dying, suffocating Earth in the distant future. An enjoyable yet unusual story written more like a parable.

“A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” by Auston Habershaw – a teenager acquires a magical book to, well, learn magic and right the wrongs in his society (and his gang). Creative and entertaining, with a great twist at the end.

“Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang” by Tim Napper – a deal between a Vietnamese gangster and a young woman who wants to smuggle some people through the border suddenly gets very complicated. Short and sweet, with a badass heroine but not a lot of action or plot development.

“Planar Ghosts” by Krystal Claxton – a kid wanders the scorched steppes of the futuristic, post-global-warming world, with a strange purple ghost of a girl as his companion. Interesting idea, but the execution could be slightly better.

“Rough Draft” by Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta – a bestselling sci-fi writer who stopped writing receives a novel written by himself – from a parallel universe. The story deals with practical applications of milking the multiverse for new content by artists and writers – and how it affects the creators who are still alive in this universe.

“Between Screens” by Zach Chapman – a gang of teenagers livng on a space station teleport around the universe and hijack telescopes to watch other worlds get destroyed by natural disasters. Gloomy and disturbing, if you’re into that kind of thing.

“Unrefined” by Martin L. Shoemaker – a metal refining station in deep space gets destroyed. Told from the point of view of the station creator’s bodyguard, the story is mostly about flying around and trying to save a collapsing station, followed by a story of the employees pulling themselves up by bootstraps. If you’re an Ayn Rand-loving engineer, you might enjoy it.

“Half Past” by Samantha Murray – a magician’s daughter who creates “echoes” of herself during emotional outbursts learns something very disturbing when she decides to move out on her own. An interesting slow-paced tale of emotion, magic and different stages of growing up.

“Purposes Made for Alien Minds” by Scott R. Parkin – a malfunctioning android who can only speak and think in 5-word sentences is sent to an alien world to discover why the aliens are killing off human colonists. Strange but overall enjoyable story.

“Inconstant Moon” by Larry Niven – late at night, a freelance writer suddenly realizes that the ridiculously bright moon means something really, really bad is coming. A fun story about a guy and his girlfriend enjoying their last night on earth.

“The Graver” by Amy M. Hughes – in a world where super-powered people can suck out your soul, a widower is trying to protect his teenage daughter. Dark but creative.

“Wisteria Melancholy” by Michael T. Banker – a man who gets as heavy as lead when he feels sad moves into a clinic for other psychomorphically unstable people (mostly kids). Interesting concept, well written, contains some great quotable stuff.

“Poseidon’s Eyes” by Kary English – something about a struggling artist, her magical redneck friend who lives on the beach, some ghosts, etc… If you enjoy very slowly developing stories, this might be the one for you – I ended up skipping to the end when I was halfway through.

Score: 4 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: May 4, 2015)

“When Mystical Creatures Attack!” by Kathleen Founds is a quirky book that defies simple descriptions.

It’s a book about a disgruntled young high school teacher in a tiny Texan town, who gets driven insane by her ungrateful students and ends up in a bizarre mental hospital. It’s a book about a girl who takes the teacher’s English class. It’s a book about a dorky boy who has a crush on the girl.

It’s a book pieced together from emails, diary entries, monologues and hilarious recipes from a Baptist cookbook.

It’s a book about life and death, destiny and suicide, love and apathy, teenage pregnancies and abortions. (Trigger warning.)

It’s a book where the ending can be easily guessed, and yet it’s unexpected and poetic and beautiful.

It’s a book that’s frequently hilarious, occasionally touching, and amazingly well written throughout.

It’s a book that deserves a 5-star rating and more.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Amazon link

“Time Travel: Recent Trips” is yet another sci-fi anthology edited by the prodigious Paula Guran. While this book has some remarkable stories, it appears that the volume’s motto was “quantity over quality.” Some of the stories are downright tedious, while others have almost nothing to do with time travel and serve as a filibuster platform for their author. Because of all that, the book ended up being an average, run-of-the-mill anthology that gets only 3 out of 5 stars.

“With fate conspire” by Vandana Singh: in a dystopian, drowning world of the future, an illiterate refugee gets rescued because her brain is uniquely tuned to a machine that can look into the distant past. When she’s not being haunted by ghosts of people from the past, she sabotages the project because of her feelings. And more feelings. With some feelings on top. A sad weepy story if you’re into that sort of thing.

“Twember” by Steve Rasnic Tem: a middle-aged man living in a small town reminisces about the past while giant mysterious escarpments roam the world and alter the time-space continuum when they pass. Yet another “human interest” story that doesn’t exactly revolve around time travel.

“The man who ended history: a documentary” by Ken Liu: not so much a sci-fi story as a 46-page-long (the longest in the anthology!) NC-17 history lesson about Japan’s Unit-731 from World War II. A Chinese-American historian uses his Japanese-American wife’s invention to experience the past and relive old atrocities, which reopens old wounds and changes the way people view history. Great potential for a great story, but it ended up being rather dry.

“The carpet beds of Sutro Park” by Kage Baker: a glitchy immortal cyborg (see Kage Baker’s “The Company” series for more information) falls in love with a woman while he records her hometown for posterity. Original but depressing.

“Mating habits of the late Creaceous” by Dale Bailey: a magnificent story about a married couple that spent all its money on a time travel to see dinosaurs. A great combination of science fiction, giant lizards and the human element.

“Blue ink” by Yoon Ha Lee: a very clever story about a schoolgirl who gets recruited to help fight the battle at the end of time. Short, beautifully written and with an unexpected ending.

“Two shots from Fly’s photo gallery” by John Shirley: a historian who specializes in the Old West time-travels to the gunfight at the OK Corral to save the woman he loves. A thoroughly researched and excellent story.

“The mists of time” by Tom Purdom: an engaging story about a wealthy man who goes back in time to shoot a documentary about his great-grandfather liberating a pirate ship full of slaves.

“The king of Where-I-go” by Howard Waldrop: a strange story set in the 1970s – a Texan guy’s younger sister gets recruited into a paranormal research project. Curious premise, but the story itself meanders – more about life in the 60s and 70s than anything else.

“Bespoke” by Genevieve Valentine: a cute short story about a post-time-travel world, where a young seamstress helps create authentic period clothing for wealthy tourists going back in time.

“First Flight” by Mary Robinette Kowal: a little old lady goes back in time to 1905 to record one of the Wright brothers’ flights. A feel-good story where, for once, interfering with the timeline doesn’t cause a disaster.

“The time travel club” by Charlie Jane Anders: a quirky story about a group of friends who meet each week in the basement of a Unitarian church and share their made-up stories about time travel, until a real time traveler shows up… Fun and creative.

“The ghosts of Christmas” by Paul Cornell: science fiction meets Lifetime channel in this story about a woman who uses an experimental time travel device to haunt her own past and future, her mather and her daughter. A lot of monologues about feelings, not a lot of science…

“The Ile of Dogges” by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette: a very Kage Baker-like story about a time traveler rescuing a play that would have been destroyed otherwise.

“September at Wall and Broad” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: an excellent story that combines the inefficiency of federal bureaucracies (the Time Department), the highly believable description of what it would be like to be a timestream operative, and the little-known Wall Street explosion of 1920. Highly recommended.

“Thought experiment” by Eileen Gunn: an engineer invents an unusual way to time-travel, but fails to consider the consequences. A goofy and entertaining story.

“Number 73 Glad Avenue” by Suzanne J. Willis: A woman and her magical tiny android sidekick steal time from people attending their parties. An unusual concept, though the story itself is a bit confusing.

“The Lost Canal” by Michael Moorcock: an unsuccessful and far too lengthy homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “John Carter of Mars” novels. Apparently, a million years from now people will still speak English and remember what happened in the 20th century and what happened in the 23rd.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Amazon link

“Zombies: More Recent Dead,” edited by Paula Guran, is yet another anthology of short stories featuring the walking dead. While it features a few excellent stories, a lot of the stories are random musings on life, the universe and everything, with a zombie or two thrown in for flavor. While a short story anthology can usually get away with a few stories that aren’t quite related to the subject at hand, at some point the balance gets disrupted.

This is just a guess, but the editor might have deliberately picked quantity over quality in this anthology. What could have been an excellent, average-length anthology ended up being a cumbersome refuge of anything and everything that claimed to be zombie-related.

“The Afflicted” by Matthew Johnson: when the zombie virus affects the elderly the most, one badass nurse chooses to protect, heal and occasionally kill them in their FEMA camp. An interesting story with a lot of human element.

“Dead Song” by Jay Wilburn: something I’ve never seen before – a story about the evolution of music in the post-zombie world. Dark and fascinating, told in the documentary style.

“Iphigenia in Aulis” by Mike Carey: this seemingly innocuous story about a little girl who goes to school in a guarded compound gradually gets darker and darker. Told from the girl’s point of view, it’s one of my favorites in the anthology.

“Pollution” by Don Webb: an in-depth look into the economics of zombie ownership, through the eyes of a fairly stupid American guy who lives in (and is obsessed with) Japan.

“Becca at the End of the World” by Shira Lipkin: a very in-depth and personal look at the biggest trope of zombie fiction, where a relative gets bitten and something should be done.

“The Naturalist” by Naureen F. McHugh: once the zombie threat is under control, Cleveland becomes a penitentiary. One of the condemned prisoners turns into a zombie naturalist. A dark and interesting story.

“Selected Sources for the Babylonian Plague of the Dead (572-571 BCE)” by Alex Dally Macfarlane: a cheap “World War Z” knockoff.

“What Maisie Knew” by David Liss: in a world where corpses can be turned into subservient zombies, a drunk driver is trying to silence his victim.

“Rocket Man” by Stephen Graham Jones: a bunch of children play baseball (with their zombie classmate) and act stupid to impress the lifeguard lady.

“The Day the Music Died” by Joe McKinney: what do you do when the rockstar you work for turns into a zombie? Lock him, feed him groupies and make money off his unreleased material, of course! Dark, twisted and morbidly funny.

“The Children’s Hour” by Marge Simon: a very short and not very creative poem that doesn’t rhyme and has no rhythm.

“Delice” by Holly Newstein: a story that collects every stereotype you can think of. Zombie priestess? Check. New Orleans voodoo? Check. Horribly abused slaves? Check. Justice from beyond the grave? Check. I ended up speed-reading through this one…

“Trail of the dead” by Joanne Anderton: a short but intriguing story about an accidental Necromancer that’s stalked by a Necromancer Hunter and his reluctant assistant.

“The Death and Life of Bob” by William Jablonsky: what if a regular person from a regular office came back to life and decided to go back to work? A fun and slightly bitter story, that’s what.

“Stemming the Tide” by Simon Strantzas: in a post-zombie world, a misanthrope and his girlfriend take a trip to watch a zombie tide.

“Those Beneath the Bog” by Jacques L. Condor (Maka Tai Meh): a bunch of hermits (Native Americans?) hang out together, cook some deer, tell each other’s fortunes… This is one of the longer stories in the anthology and I stopped reading 1/3 of the way through. There might be zombies at some point in this glacially slow story, but it’s hard to tell.

“What Still Abides” by Marie Brennan: an interesting short story told in ye Olde English style about a zombie problem in the feudal Europe.

“Jack and Jill” by Jonathan Maberry: a young boy with cancer and a deathwish waits for a giant storm to arrive, but that’s not the only disaster he’ll experience… A sad and well-written story.

“In the Dreamtime of Lady Resurrection” by Caitlin R Kiernan: a mad scientist gently kills his girlfriend and brings her back to life to learn what’s on the other side. An unusual take on zombies, to say the least, and filled with purple prose.

“Rigormarole” by Michael A. Arnzen: a poem about a mad scientist’s unorthodox solution to the zombie problem. Fairly short and clever.

“Kitty’s Zombie New Year” by Carrie Vaughn: the hostess of a paranormal radio talk show encounters a zombie during a New Year’s Eve party. A very pragmatic take on zombies that avoids the genre’s usual tropes.

“The Gravedigger of Konstan Spring” by Genevieve Valentine: a fun and slow-paced short story about a town where water can make you immortal, and what it means to be a gravedigger in a place where no one really dies.

“Chew” by Tamsyn Muir: a disturbing story about a murdered woman coming back to life, told from the perspective of a young German boy right after WW2.

“‘Til Death Do Us Part” by Shaun Jeffrey: a surreal and creepy story about a man and his young son reintegrating their zombie wife/mother into their lives.

“There Is No “E” in Zombi Which Means There Can Be No You or We” by Roxane Gay: all is fair in love and war – a woman in Haiti uses the zombie powder to get a lover.

“What Once we Feared (A Forest of Hands and Teeth Story)” by Carrie Ryan: a first-person narrative from a teenager who hid from zombies in a skyscraper’s penthouse with his four friends. Gritty, realistic and very well written.

“The Harrowers” by Eric Gregory: an amazing story that combines zombies, noir and just a little bit of cyberpunk (zombie cyborg bears!). A guide is tasked with helping a young man find his lost father outside the city walls, but nothing is as it seems… One of my favorites from this collection.

“Resurgam” by Lisa Mannetti: a story within a story about medical students stealing dead bodies (for science!) and the dead bodies coming back to life.

“I Waltzed with a Zombie” by Ron Goulart: a cute and occasionally funny story about a hack Hollywood writer in 1942, written in the style of that era.

“Aftermath” by Joy Kennedy-O’Neill: an unusual zombie story in that the infected eventually got cured. A former English professor describes the post-zombie world and provides increasingly disturbing flashbacks to her past. One of the best stories in the anthology, in my opinion – it reads just like something from “World War Z.”

“A Shepherd of the Valley” by Maggie Slater: a profoundly sad story about a religious hermit who lives in an airport with his 11 exoskeleton-controlled zombies, and a teenage girl that walks into his life. Reminded me of the video game “The Last of Us.”

“The Day the Saucers Came” by Neil Gaiman: a quirky little poem about the day the world changed.

“Love, Resurrected” by Cat Rambo: a necromancer’s undead girlfriend, who also happens to be a brilliant tactician, looks back at her life and tries to catch a remarkably talented warlord. A brilliant short story.

“Present” by Nicole Kornher-Stace: a high school student and her baby flee from zombies. Disturbing, to say the least, with some meta humor about zombies and horror stories.

“The Hunt: Before, and the Aftermath” by Joe R. Lansdale: a middle-aged couple goes on a zombie safari to save their marriage. A typical narrative of a cheating man, only with zombies in the backdrop.

“Bit Rot” by Charles Stross: a truly unusual take on the zombie genre, featuring insane irradiated androids on a spaceship. Excellent concept and execution.

Score: 3 stars

Disclaimer: I received my copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Link to the Amazon page

Claude Lalumière’s “Super Stories of Heroes & Villains” anthology is a must-read if you’re a fan of the superhero genre. (And judging by the success of the “Avengers” movie, there are millions of fans out there.) The anthology features 27 stories, many of them by lesser-known (but highly talented) writers, as well as stories by the omnipresent Cory Doctorow, Kelly Link and George R.R.Martin.

Although some of the stories aren’t quite about superheroes, most of them take traditional superhero tropes and have fun with them – or create strange worlds with their own mythology. I’m giving this anthology a well-deserved 5-star rating, with a small caveat: a couple of stories talk about the characters’ sex lives in great detail, so you might not want to buy this book for your nephew’s birthday.

And now, a brief guide to the stories:

“Ubermensch!” by Kim Newman: what if Superman crashlanded in Bavaria instead of Kansas? And what if he became a Nazi? The protagonist is a Jew who spent 50 years after WW2 hunting Nazis and who finally gets a chance to interview the captured Superman. Excellent story and a great way to start off the anthology.

“A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows” by Chris Roberson: a hero with mystical powers and not-so-mystical .45 Colts searches for a demon in a California town during WW2. Well written story that, among other things, features an unorthodox way to protect your secret identity.

“Trickster” by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due: a great story (almost a novella, really) told from the point of view of an African tribesman who encounters an American college student after a botched alien invasion. The story is told in bits and pieces and it’s never quite clear what exactly happened in the outside world, but the ambiguity only makes it better.

“They Fight Crime!” by Leah Bobet: a very short, very unusual story about love triangles, secret romances, superpowers and using “fighting crime” as a euphemism for a certain adult pastime.

“The Rememberer” by J.Robert Lennon: a surprisingly realistic look at what would happen to a person with super-memory in today’s world. This story provides a rare glimpse at the psychological side effects of having superpowers.

“The Nuckelavee: A Hellboy Story” by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola: Hellboy is tasked with protecting the last living member of an old clan from being killed.

“Faces of Gemini” by A.M.Dellamonica: twin sisters with an unusual origin story team up to rescue their captured teammates. The “bickering sisters” subplot is straight out of Buffy (of which the author is a huge fan), but the odd number of sexual innuendos and scenes where both sisters prance around naked and wear each other’s clothes make this an R-rated story, in my opinion.

“Origin Story” by Kelly Link: in a world where almost everyone has superpowers, a famous superhero comes back to his hometown for an annual parade and hooks up with his high school sweetheart. This story is great because it’s unlike anything else: snippets of dialogue during the characters’ pillow talk paint a world with bizarre arch-enemies, music-obsessed mutants who hide in the forest, cabarets where girls show off their quirky powers, etc. Nothing in this story is quite as it seems, though…

“Burning Sky” by Rachel Pollack: some of the stories in this anthology are about superheroes with occasional sexual overtones. Pollack’s story, on the other hand, is all about sex, with some superhero action in the background. Following in the footsteps of Charles Moulton (the creator of Wonder Woman), Pollack explores some of the more private aspects of liberated crime-fighting women.

“The Night Chicago Died” by James Lowder: a phenomenal mix of pulp action, superheroes and zombies set in the 1920s Chicago. One of the longest – and best – stories in the anthology.

“Novaheads” by Ernest Hogan: I had no idea that lucha noir even existed, and I think I’m hooked now. This story’s cyberpunk world features a Latino version of the United States, with an omnipotent corporation (“Better living through mind control!”), its genetically-enhanced 8-foot-tall wrestlers and street drugs with rather messy side effects.

“Clash of Titans (A New York Romance)” by Kurt Busiek: a hilarious story about a never-ending feud between a brilliant villainess and a goodie-two-shoes superhero (think “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”). The protagonist is a hapless guy in charge of New York City’s tourism PR who just wants to find an affordable condo in the city.

“The Super Man and the Bugout” by Cory Doctorow: what if Superman lived in Canada and had an overbearing Jewish mother? And what if there was no more crime left to fight? Short, funny and quirky.

“Grandma” by Carol Emshwiller: even superheroes can grow old and feeble. A little girl’s story about her formerly-superpowered grandma.

“The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door” by Jonathan Levin: sometimes all you need to be a supervillain is industrial-strength misanthropy, some writing talent and a vivid imagination. So vivid, in fact, that some of your creations may come to life…

“Sex Devil” by Jack Pendarvis: this isn’t a superhero story per se – it’s a teenager’s pitch to comic book publishers, filled with Freudian overcompensation and a young teen’s lexicon. Funny in a “meta” way, but that’s about it.

“The Death Trap of Dr.Nefario” by Benjamin Rosenbaum: it’s not easy being Gotham’s top psychiatrist. A fun and unusual perspective on Batman’s and Robin’s relationship.

“Man oh Man – It’s Manna Man” by George Singleton: what if you had the power to temporarily hijack somebody’s vocal cords? The protagonist finds a creative way to use his strange and seemingly unremarkable power.

“The Jackdaw’s Last Case” by Paul Di Filippo: I don’t know much about Kafka, but after this great story, which features him as a superhero, I want to know more!

“The Biggest” by James Patrick Kelly: a country bumpkin with superpowers travels to New York City to make a name for himself during the Great Depression. The story also features a cameo appearance by King Kong!

“Philip Jose Farmer’s Tarzan Alive: a Definitive Biography of Lord Greystroke” by Win Scott Eckert: I’m not entirely sure what to make of this story. It’s not fictional and it doesn’t feature any superheroes. It describes a genre of real-life biographies for fictional characters and talks about the most prominent writer in that field. So, basically, this is a story about stories about stories. Very meta, if you’re into that sort of thing.

“The Zeppelin Pulps” by Jess Nevins: an unusual mix of fact and fiction, this story is an article on zeppelin noir books that never existed.

“Wild Cards: Prologue & Interludes” by George R.R.Martin: if you’ve never heard about the “Wild Cards” series, this story is a great introduction. An alien “wild card” virus released in New York in 1946 kills 90% of the population, turns 9% into deformed freaks (jokers) and gives the remaining 1% (aces) godlike powers. As a result, the world’s history is forever altered. If you like realistic superheroes and/or alternate history, give this story (and series!) a shot.

“Wild Cards: Just Cause” by Carrie Vaughn: an action-packed and somewhat said (but oh-so-well-written) story about Wild Card superheroes wroking for the United Nations and trying to save the world, one disaster area at a time.

“Bluebeard and the White Buffalo: A Rangergirl Yarn” by Tim Pratt: a short story set in Tim Pratt’s fictional 19th-century United Stats, where Wild West is wilder than you can imagine, with cowboys who ride unicorns, with steampunk and magic, with vague prophecies of a miraculous buffalo birth…

“The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children” by Will Clarke: a quirky story about a small Louisiana town dealing with a generation of kids with superpowers.

“Pinktastic and the End of the World” by Camille Alexa: a short piece of Young Adult fiction, with superpowers and unrequited crushes.

“The Detective of Dreams” by Gene Wolfe: a strange story told by a detective in pre-WW2 Europe investigating abnormal nightmares.

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